The age of Ideas


Vol. 16 // 2021

Source is Future of Jobs Survery 2020, World Economic Forum

“In today’s market, anything that isn’t differentiated through creativity or a 10x technology will be immediately commodified by the industrial system.”

By Alan Philips, The Age of Ideas: Unlock Your Creative Potential

Growing up, I loved the stories my grandmother would tell. They were mostly based on things she had witnessed and seen in her lifetime. One of my favorites was the story of the traveling salesman.

Cloth traders used to go from house to house selling fabric for clothes and over time they would become welcome guests. Since it was hard to bring the whole shop in a bundle, they would pick what they thought the lady of the house would like. After every visit their choices would become more and more accurate.

These travelling salesmen were collecting data about their customers. They learnt from what they would sell and tried to bring a selection suited to a particular customer’s taste. This helped them to increase sales.

No traveling salesmen come to visit me – instead Amazon helps me pick new books, new art supplies and new home decor items that are suited to my taste. Amazon, over time has also learnt from what I have bought and what people it classifies as ‘similar’ to me have bought. This allows the Amazon recommendation engine to highlight products I have a higher probability of buying and if I’m being honest I’ve discovered several new authors and much loved products this way.

The Internet of Things (IoT) makes it easier for us to gather data from many connected devices all over the world and big data and machine learning advancements allow various statistical algorithms to make sense of the vast amounts of data and to glean useful information from them. In the case of recommendation engines, products we might want and need are brought to the forefront, picked especially for us from a sea of endless things. Items we may not have come across if the recommendation engines of the world had not brought them forward.

Another example of this is Netflix. I’m sure the Netflix recommendation algorithm got a LOT of new data in 2020 since most of us were at home watching TV for entertainment. I have discovered lots of new shows and movies I would not have seen if Netflix did not classify them as “similar to” other things I had seen.

All this technology and these AI algorithms have automated what the traveling salesman in my grandmother’s stories did. They are doing a much better job because they have more data to learn from and they also have the ability to handle data far more complex and in much greater volume than is possible for the human brain. These algorithms have definitely replaced the job of many small salesmen – but this is not all they have done – think about the opportunities and jobs they have brought with them.

I am a Kindle author and have self-published many books on Amazon. These books are based on my love for art and I’ve built a little community around them. The fact that I can distribute my books to people all over the world who want to read them is amazing to me! No more trying to get a big publisher to pick you up. Amazon publishing has leveled the playing field and given a huge opportunity to writers and content creators. This would not have been possible without technology.

Over the years a lot of technological revolutions have taken place. A lot of jobs have been automated but new industries have sprung up in their wake. As we live in the age of AI one of the most pressing questions and concerns people have is the loss of jobs. Will AI make me irrelevant?

This past year due to COVID-19 a lot of processes have shifted very fast. Faster than they would have otherwise. One of the biggest in my opinion is education. The future of education is very exciting. If we remove the prerequisite of being physically present at great institutions to learn from them, we remove a huge barrier for a lot of young people around the world. A lot of young people who would otherwise not have had the opportunity and who deserve it. It levels the playing field so to say. It makes education a lot more accessible and it means a lot more talent and brilliance will emerge.

The World Economic Forum report The Future of Jobs is a very interesting read (you can find it here: reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2020) and focuses on skill development to stay relevant. According to the report the jobs lost are offset by the new jobs produced but will require different and an upgraded set of skills. For example a data entry clerk position will be harder and harder to come by as data is automatically ingested or intelligently ‘read’ and categorized. Instead data analysts will be more in demand as more people will be needed to analyze the data.

The jobs of today will morph into the jobs of tomorrow. Some existing skill sets will need to be enhanced, others will be used in different ways to create new applications. As platforms like Coursera gain popularity and credibility amongst employers it will be easier to pivot into different job roles than ever before.

Source: Linkedin Economic Graph

Whatever you need to learn – you can. All you need is the will and an internet connection.

I believe the only thing that has remained valuable over time are ideas. Technological advancements. Start with fire and a wheel and take it further one step at a time. What we can say for sure is that we will always be living through the Age of Ideas. Some jobs will be made redundant and others will spring up in their place. Some things will become automated and others will be created in their stead.

We don’t want to have jobs that can be automated. We want to do more. We want to push the frontiers of knowledge. In my opinion technological advancements made by a few force the rest of us to learn more, better ourselves, better our skill sets and better our minds. This is the process of evolution and there is no stopping it.

If we are growing, evolving, learning and thinking we will never be irrelevant. The universe has too many secrets to unlock and too many puzzles to solve. Increased human cognitive potential through AI will only propel us forward. I’m excited for the future. I don’t know what I will be doing tomorrow. Will I still classify myself a data scientist or will I be something else? What I do know is that AI will free us up to dream bigger dreams and to push the frontiers of knowledge even further.

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